When I went to the Continental Divide Trail for a 12-day section hike this past August, I thought that I was going to reclaim something that was lost.


At age 24, I started Blue Ridge Hiking Company, which turned most of my local backpacking trips into guided hikes. Then a year later, I married Brew and gained a life-long hiking partner and car Sherpa. This would my first solo trip since my early 20’s.

And I needed it.

After traveling for the past 16-months with my family in a Prius – a Prius, mama needed some “me” time. I longed for the self-discovery that comes with solitude, the freedom found in silence, and a resiliency born of self-sufficiency.

When Brew parked at the trailhead on the outskirts of Breckenridge, I leapt out of the car like a caged animal. I surveyed my surroundings. There was no sign of a trail – anywhere. And it was buggy. Very buggy. Then I looked back at the car and saw my 20-month old daughter pointing at me and saying, “mama, mama, mama.” I retreated to the passenger seat even faster than I escaped and shut the door.

I wasn’t going anywhere.

I hadn’t been away from Charley for more than two nights, and now I was supposed to go hiking for 12 days. NO WAY JOSE. This was a bad idea. I felt like a bad parent. I felt scared. I felt sad. I DID NOT feel free.

But Brew, in his usual fashion, gave me a pat on the back and told me to “suck it up” (which, BTW, has been a constant catch-phrase since our 2011 record).  I looked at my husband and told him with my eyes that I did NOT want to hear that phrase right now.

“It’s not going to be that bad," said Brew. "You just have to hike until tomorrow night and then you can see Charley again.”

Knowing that I would struggle to make it almost two weeks withoutseeing my daughter. Brew had agreed to stick around for a few days before flying back East to visit family, so that I would only have to go 8 full days without my daughter. Only?! That still seemed like an eternity. But I didn’t have to deal with that quite yet.

Okay, I thought, I can do this. At least for 36 hours.

And so it began...


I planned to hike 35 miles in the next day and a half. Because that’s what I would have to do to reconnect with my family, before they flew home. PLUS, I hiked 47 mpd on the A.T. Surely I could split 35 miles into two days.

The problem is... there isn't any AIR on the CDT. I started hiking up to Georgia Pass and I had to stop every few hundred yards to catch my breath. Then I finally got to the pass and discovered that the trail disappeared. Crap! The CDT really is a route, NOT a trail. So I headed off cross-country using my amateur map and compass skills to follow the "trail" along the ridges. The afternoon was filled with breaks. Breaks to catch my breath, breaks to look at my map, and a long break to let an lightning storm pass.

When the sun started going down I was still up on the ridge and about 4 miles from the place where I planned to camp. The ridge was not Appalachian-like, instead it was steep, jagged, fall off on either side, Jon Krakauer material. I did not want to night hike on this ridge. So I bailed off the crest and headed down a steep, steep scree field to find water and a campsite in the valley. Descending down loose rock at dusk felt almost as dangerous as night hiking the ridge, and slightly less disturbing than camping in the isolated patch of evergreens, where – if something happened – no one would ever find me.

Like usual, fatigued outweighed fear and I slept safely through the night.

The next morning, I bushwhacked through the valley to find the gravel road which lead to the base of Gray’s Peak. I started up the highest peak on the Continental Divide Trail. At first I could make it 100 yards before I had to stop and catch my breath, then it was 50 yards, then 10, then every few steps. My legs were shaking, the wind was howling, but through it all I sang Frozen tunes in my head. Because as any mom with a little girl can attest, when you hike up seemingly impossible, cold, isolated mountains singing “Let it Go” – even internally - will help get you to the top.


The 14,278 summit of Gray’s was humbling - and discouraging. I felt like I barely made it to the top of the mountain, yet when I arrived I was shocked to see a couple dozen people taking pictures near the peak’s wooden marker. Yes, I had carried a heavier pack and ascended a more technical route, but these folks made it look easy, and fun. Even on my way down the mountain, when my lungs were filling with oxygen, I still had folks passing me left and right, laughing and talking. Whereas it was all I could do to stumble and try to get Frozen out of my head.

I started to accept what I already knew, not only was I having major difficulty acclimating to the altitude, but I was ALSO out-of-shape. Why is this so hard?! I thought. HOW does a record-setting long distance hiker lose all her conditioning?! Well, for the record, she has a baby and goes on book tour.

I was a shadow of my former athletic-self and I was frustrated that I didn’t try to get in better shape before this adventure. So this is what it feels like to “get in shape” on the trail, I conjured. And, FYI, I do NOT recommend it.

When I finally arrived at the road that evening to meet Brew and Charley, my 35 mile two day hike caused my body to feel as if it had just completed a 100-mile trail run. But, at least now, I was with my family so everything was going to be okay – right?!


Well, not exactly. Charley spent the night reminding us that she really was a toddler and not some hiking, traveling, 22-month old superhero. She cried, and cried, and cried. She peed on the carpet in our hotel room then pooped in the bathtub. She had a low-grade fever and clearly wasn’t feeling well. And that made me feel horrible! When I get sick, my mom usually tells me it’s my own fault, and still there’s no one else I’d rather be with when I’m that puny.

After a long night with very little sleep, Brew took my back to the trail. I was tired, sore, and feeling even more guilty for leaving my family than I did two days ago. Why didn’t anyone tell me that section hiking was SO HARD?!

The next eight days held high winds, electrical storms, sleet, some wrong turns, and hardly any hikers. But I also saw several moose, a bald eagle (really, really close-up), some amazing scenery, stunning sunsets - and I only had to talk to a few people ; )


I didn’t feel free and unattached. I felt a great sense of responsibility with every step and every decision. But I cherished the silence and solitude. That’s something that not many moms get to experience. And I think we probably need it more than anyone. It was good to remember that I have an identity beyond being “mama.” And by the end, I remembered that I was actually a pretty decent hiker.  It wasn’t easy, but it was important.

I remember when I started my first journey on the A.T. as a 21-year old I thought that somehow thru-hikers were superior to section-hikers. Thankfully, I didn’t feel that way when I finished the trail. But now, 10-years later, I am pretty confident that section-hikers are superior to thru-hikers ; )

Seriously though, section hikers have to carve out time from families and work, travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get to the trail, spend lots of money on travel, hurt every time they start hiking, and get off the trail as soon as they start to feel good!!

And while I really don’t think that any hiker is BETTER than another hiker. I finished my section hike on the CDT knowing that the trail was going to mean A LOT to me, because it was going to ask A LOT of me. At this rate, if I can average a 200-mile section each year I will barely complete the trail by the time Charley graduates high school.

Yes, it is going to mean a lot.